Babies are such a nice way to start people. -Don Herold
When my husband and I were engaged, we talked once or twice about our future family. We agreed that we wanted children, and it seemed to both of us that four kids was a good number. Three seemed too few, five or more seemed too many. But four sounded “just right.” Now, here we are, fifteen years later with baby #5.
According to a new study published by three economists, small families are better for kids. When new babies come along, older siblings can suffer long-term effects such as “lower education, lower earnings, more criminal behavior and more teenage pregnancies” (Source). But what if you measure other things? Deseret News reports:
Whether big or small families “win” in studies depends on what’s measured. For instance, an Ohio State University-led study found children with siblings . . . were friendlier and better at expressing feelings and empathy. . . . In a more recent study, reported in the Deseret News in 2014, Downey said children who grew up in large families were less apt to divorce, compared to an only child. Each additional sibling — up to seven — lowered the risk of divorce by 2 percent.
Does it even matter who wins?
Apparently the comments sections discussing this new study were full of mean attacks from proponents of both small families and big ones. This is too often the case with comments sections, am I right? I wish we could throw this family size debate into the rubbish bin along with home birth vs. hospital and vaccination. Erin Stewart hit a homerun with this response: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in an ideal world where we could pick exactly when and how many children we have and make sure it lines up with all the research telling us exactly the best way to have a family? . . . Some of us don’t choose the number or the spacing or the anything of how our family turns out. . . . Most moms and dads are simply making the best of what they’ve been given.” (Source).
Seriously. We are all just doing what we can to get through this messy, beautiful thing called life. Sometimes the messy part seems to outweigh the beautiful part. Sometimes in the process of surviving we don’t follow the “ideal.” Sometimes we stray quite far from the ideal. Sometimes what my heart tells me is best for my family is the opposite of what your heart tells you. Life’s tough sometimes, and goodness knows none of us needs anyone telling us how we’re doing it wrong. My nineteen-year-old niece wore this t-shirt from Faircloth & Supply to a family gathering last weekend:
So last night I was the last one awake. I stayed up to take a relaxing bath with Baby Hope. She hates taking baths alone, but she loves taking baths with me. Anyway, after drying off and getting both of us ready for bed, Baby Girl fell asleep on my chest. Lying there awake, feeling her peaceful arms gently draped around me, I was overcome with a euphoric mix of joy and love and gratitude. It reminded me of something my friend Laura said after giving birth to a surprise “caboose” baby and already having a house full of older kids. She said, “What I thought I would just ‘get through best I could’ has turned into one of the most tender and beautiful experiences of my life. I have more love in my heart than I thought possible. . . . It is my commitment to never forget what I’ve learned from Canyon” (See the rest of her thoughts HERE). Yeah. What she said.
This baby, our little Hoffnung, what she has done to our family is remarkable. Tenderness and affection have taken over our home. I’m seeing sides of my children that I’ve never seen before. My almost-7-year-old son kisses his baby sister’s hands and cheeks multiple times every day. So often, I hear his voice exclaiming, “Hope is just so cute!” A part of me wonders… how much of the violence in today’s world could be remedied if every 7-year-old boy had a baby sister?
I love the program Roots of Empathy. They understand the power of babies, so they’re bringing babies into classrooms:
Roots is built on a simple notion: When babies such as June bring their huge eyes, irrepressible smiles and sometimes unappeasable tears into the classroom, students can’t help but feel for them. The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience (Source).
Classrooms that have been part of the Roots of Empathy program see significant reductions in bullying. One study showed “88 percent of Roots participants decreased in what’s known as ‘proactive aggression’ — the coldhearted use of aggression to get what you want” (Source). Babies can bring out the purest, sweetest, most beautiful things in those around them. That has certainly been the case with my little (big) family.
Azadeh had been an only child for thirteen years when her mom gave birth to a baby boy. She described her experience in an article titled “Behold: The Power of… Babies“:
Looking back over the past five years, I feel that I gained an experience that most of my peers will have to wait years to enjoy. Playing an active role in the life of a young child introduces levels of responsibility and love that is unlike anything else, especially for an adolescent. . . . It is incredible that a baby’s critical learning period likewise incites a period of growth in their caretakers. Responsibility and love for a child force us to go beyond ourselves. We must learn to expect the unexpected and prepare for any situation, and life’s sweetest gift fills the moments in between (Source).
Whether you have one baby or many babies, there’s something magical about the way those precious new souls change us.
I wasn’t planning to get pregnant last year. Hope’s appearance in my womb was a surprise that took some adjusting-to. Five kids seems like a lot compared to most families out there. And studies may say that this baby could impair her older siblings’ futures, perhaps even send them into lives of poverty and crime. I certainly hope not. In fact, I’m really not worried about it. At all. As Erin Stewart said, “We’re just making the best of what we’ve been given.” And, as far as we’re concerned, what we’ve been given is a whole lot of wonderful.